Found via Mebane Faber.
Ben Graham liked to distinguish between a temporary loss of value and a permanent loss of capital. The former is a rebalancing opportunity; the latter is a disaster. In a highly diversified portfolio where all the idiosyncratic risk has been diversified away, the latter is extremely rare. At some time during the 20th century, the stock markets of Argentina, Russia, Germany, Japan, China, and Egypt each went essentially to zero. Suffice it to say those investors had much bigger things to worry about than their stocks! Temporary losses of value are frequent; at times they can become so frightening that they become permanent—for those that sell.
Through the lens of sustainable spending, these losses are far less severe. Table 1 illustrates the 10 bear markets larger than 30%, in real total return, in the past century. These aren’t as rare as most people think! The average loss is a horrific 46% real return loss (including dividends, but before taxes). Our nest egg is chopped in half, usually in less than two years. That’s awful… for anyone who wants to spend all of their money at the trough.
For those focused on the spending power of the portfolio, most of these monster bear markets were surprisingly boring. The peak to trough decline in real dividend distributions was a scant 3% drop, on average. Even in the Great Depression, real dividend distributions fell by “only” 25%. Of course, the drop was worse in simple nominal terms, because we had deflation. A 25% cut in real spending power on our portfolio, while very unpleasant, was small relative to the 80% real loss of portfolio value… and it was temporary. This 25% drop in our real spending power was the single worst outlier in a century.
On average, real sustainable spending sagged slightly during these 10 worst bear markets, then recovered massively, on average by 35%, off of their lows just five years after the market trough. In almost every case, our real distributions also achieved new highs, relative to our pre-crisis spending, besting the dividends of the previous market peak by an average of 29%! Keep in mind that this is the increase in real dividends, not just nominal payouts.